In "soft" sciences like sociology, it's much more difficult to detect manipulation of research, than in "hard" sciences like physics. Soft science researchers who strive for objectivity deserve an extra measure of respect. Sadly, far too many researchers are more concerned with pushing an agenda than with objectivity. These same problems are not unknown in the world of journalism. Since the soft sciences and the media have a powerful influence on social policies in this country, this affects every family and every individual.
Origin of Claim that Domestic Violence Kills as Many Women Every 5 Years as the Number of U.S. Soldiers Killed in Viet Nam
March 16, 2005
With the Violence Against Women Act up for reauthorization this year, there has been an astounding increase in the number of stories that make demonstrably false claims about the number of women victimized by domestic violence. One of the most notorious of these claims is that as many U.S. women are killed by domestic violence every 5 years as all of the U.S. soldiers killed in the Viet Nam War. Depending on the mood and creativity of the advocate, this claim appears in a number of variations. Sometimes the claim is that nearly as many women were killed by abusive partners in the U.S. during the Viet Nam War as U.S. soldiers who were killed by the enemy in that war. An example of the "every 5 years" variant can be seen at the website of the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the website of the City of Chicago. Examples of the "during the Viet Nam War" variant can be found at the website of The Clothesline Project, and the website of the Claremont, CA women's shelter, House of Ruth.
Since so many people seem to believe this, it's worth investigating whether the claim is true. According to the Center for the Historical Study of Women and Gender at the State University of New York at Binghamton, the statistic stems from testimony given before the U.S. Senate in 1993 by Dr. Robert McAfee, then president-elect of the American Medical Association*. In rather melodramatic fashion he listed the various ills afflicting the country, among them:
"And we the people of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect union and assure domestic tranquility, will allow more women to be killed in their homes during an 8- to 9- year period by their husbands or boyfriends than men died in the Vietnam War. Envision, if you will, the President of the United States addressing us on Memorial Day standing in front of the Vietnam Memorial 9 years from now with a second wall behind that and 18 years from now with a third wall behind that with the names of women killed in this country by those who are closest and theoretically dearest to them in an environment that should be nurturing their safety."
A shocking statistic - if true. But is it? According to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, during the 9 year period immediately preceding McAfee's Senate testimony, approximately 1,500 women died from domestic violence annually. That works out to approximately 1.2 deaths for every 100,000 women. The number of U.S. soldiers who lost their lives in Viet Nam during the war was 58,226. It would take not 8 to 9 years, but 38 years 9 months for domestic violence deaths to equal this number!
One would expect the President of the American Medical Association would hold himself to a higher standard. Instead, given an opportunity to grandstand before the U.S. Senate, this supposed man of science exaggerated the truth by a factor of more than four!
Once this falsehood was out in the world, battered women's advocates seem to have decided that shortening the period from McAfee's 9 years to a nice round number like 5 years would make for a better sound-bite. 38 years 9 months vs. 5 years. Do these advocates have such disdain for the public that they think they can get away with inflating their numbers by a factor of seven and three quarters and nobody will notice?
VAWA is up for reauthorization this year, and Congress will surely be hearing testimony from advocates like former AMA president Robert McAfee – advocates who believe that promoting their cause is more important than the truth. Only Congress can decide whether to demand that advocates' testimony be true. But it would sure be a refreshing change if they did!
* The text of McAfee's Senate testimony was originally on the S.U.N.Y. Binghamton Women's Studies Dept. website at http://womhist.binghamton.edu/vawa/doc9.htm. Since that website is no longer available, that page has been archived at BinghamtonWomensHistoryMcAfeeStatement_doc9.htm.